A government watchdog group said on Thursday that a trio of Republican groups conspired to conceal important campaign finance information. Common Cause Minnesota said the “scheme” was developed to avoid aspects of Minnesota’s campaign finance disclosure laws.
The group alleges that the Republican Governor’s Association funneled money through Minnesota’s Future LLC to Minnesota’s Future, an independent expenditure committee with the same name. Mike Dean, Common Cause Minnesota’s executive director said the violation could result in $5.1 million in fines. Minnesota’s Future has produced two ads attacking DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton. The Minnesota Independent reported on the funneling of money to the group last week.
“Common Cause has uncovered a scheme by Minnesota’s Future Political Fund to avoid key aspects of Minnesota’s disclosure law by funneling a $428,000 contribution through a shell corporation,” Dean told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.
Dean said that Minnesota’s Future LLC was set up just weeks before $428,000 was was funneled through it by the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) to Minnesota’s Future Political Fund. About $390,000 went to the political fund. He said the LLC acted as an intermediary between the RGA and the political fund, and was able to bypass certain reporting requirements.
“The three groups together violated numerous state statutes,” he said. He said the violations could result in a fine as high as 5.1 million civil penalty and could also result in criminal prosecution. “So this is extremely serious violation,” he added.
“The scheme that was created was a clear and deliberate attempt by Minnesota’s Future and Republican Governor’s Association to avoid source disclosure law,” said Dean.
He said there were four laws that the LLC broke. They failed to register as a political committee, failed to report receipts and expenditures, failed to fill out a 42-day pre-general election report, and failed to fill out a source disclosure form.
He said the political committee broke the law when it accepted the $390,000 and that it filed a false statement with the finance board.
He added that the RGA circumvented the law by not filing a source disclosure form.
Common Cause is asking the campaign finance board to move this complaint through an expedited process.
Dean explained the difference between this case and the activities of left-leaning groups such as WIN Minnesota which passed through money from the Democratic Governor’s Association to groups that support DFL candidates. WIN Minnesota is a different type of organization, a 501(c)4, and followed the law, he said. “We may not like it, but they did it the right way,” he said.
The LLC had no other activity than the direct pass through of funds.
He said that all the RGA had to do was give the funds directly to the political fund instead of funneling it through the LLC.
“That’s all they had to do. That would have been the easiest thing.”
He said that protests earlier this summer over Target’s contributions to Minnesota Forward, a group that spent those contributions on ads supporting GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer might have prompted the groups to try and hide the donations.
“I think this came off of the Target backlash where we saw immense public pressure bring put on corporations who were involved in politics,” he said. “They saw what happened with Target and were looking for ways to hide those contributions.”